Earthweek: A Diary of the Planet 3.1

Deep Changes
Scientists measuring the temperature and salinity of deep waters
in the Southern Ocean warned that recent changes there could have a
major impact on global climate.
Deep Changes

Scientists measuring the temperature and salinity of deep waters in the Southern Ocean warned that recent changes there could have a major impact on global climate. A multinational team of researchers says water at the ocean floor off Antarctica has cooled significantly and become less salty than it was 10 years ago. Expedition leader Steve Rintoul of Australia says the changes could mean the deep-water currents are slowing down. “Ocean circulation is a big influence on global climate, so it is critical that we understand why this is happening and why it is happening so quickly,” said Rintoul. The team released 19 free-floating buoys to measure future changes in currents, temperature and salinity.


Entire villages in southeastern Iran were flattened by a powerful pre-dawn earthquake that killed at least 530 people and injured nearly a thousand others. Most of the dead were in the Zarand region, north of the provincial capital of Kerman.

n Earth movements were also felt in the Sumatra-Andaman aftershock zone, metropolitan Tokyo, Taiwan, Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island, the central Philippines, New Zealand’s North Island and South Carolina.

Cyclone Damage

Late reports from the South Pacific say the Manu’a Islands of America Samoa were devastated by a direct hit from Cyclone Olaf during the previous week. An emergency was declared for the U.S. territory after the storm washed out roads and destroyed up to 90 percent of island crops. No fatalities were reported in the aftermath.

South Asian Winter

Some of the worst winter weather in 40 years brought further misery and death across a wide area of northern Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan. Accumulated snow up to 70 feet deep in some places blocked highways in the Indian and Pakistani zones of Kashmir. Severe weather in the Himalayan territory also triggered avalanches that killed 203 people over a two-week period.

n Afghan authorities and the U.S.-led coalition forces air-dropped humanitarian supplies into parts of Afghanistan that have seen hundreds of people die in several weeks of bitter cold, heavy snow and avalanches.

Greenland Banana Belt

Temperatures in southern Greenland soared to record levels that were even higher than those normally reached in midsummer. The official temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded in the southwest coastal town of Frederikshob, was the highest winter reading since record keeping began. That temperature was several degrees warmer than same-day high-temperature readings along the north coast of Africa, according to Danish meteorologists.

Caribbean Drought

Authorities in Havana asked Cuban citizens to reduce their use of water due to an extended drought that has parched much of the nation. Out of the 235 reservoirs across the island, 114 contain less than 25 percent of their capacity, according to Jorge Aspiolea, president of Cuba’s National Institute of Hydraulic Resources. Last year was the driest on record since 1901, and the island received only half of its normal precipitation for January.

Drought and Smoke

Tropical Singapore has suffered one of its hottest and driest periods on record in recent weeks, sparking hundreds of brushfires in the normally lush parks and fields around the small city-state. The wildfires have been relatively minor, but have left a choking haze over the island. In nearby Sumatra, a smoky haze from hundreds of forest and ground fires has prompted a public health alert. Schools may soon be closed to prevent students from being exposed to hazardous smoke, and 2,000 masks were handed out to motorcyclists to protect them from the choking fumes. Many of the Sumatran fires were illegally set to clear land for agriculture, a practice that occurs annually around this time across Indonesia and Malaysia.

Eel Hunt

An oversized eel invader has begun eating fish at an alarming rate in a breeding pond near the Australian city of Melbourne, and a local fish farmer has offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who can capture it alive. Visitors who have seen the creature describe it as being about 13 feet long with a head the size of a football. Gary Wales, from Tommy Finn’s Trout Farm, says the eel turned up earlier this month and has eluded all attempts to capture it. Melbourne Aquarium curator Nick Kirby says the hungry visitor is probably a long-finned eel, and may had been living in a pond upstream for 35 years before being washed into the trout farm by record storms and flooding earlier this month.

– By Steve Newman

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